Friday Favorite: Expo Disc and Gray Cards

White balance can be a difficult thing to figure out sometimes. Usually, if you set it to the appropriate light source, it does pretty well at making your picture look true-to-life with colors.

Here’s a picture of some person’s camera’s white balance options. Mine offers these as well.


And if you don’t set your white balance correctly, your colors can be off. For those of you who constantly notice a bluish tint to your photos, that might be why. See?

For those of you who use your white balance setting, have you ever had a hard time figuring out what to set it to when you are in an area that has more than one type of light?

For example, my kitchen is not a great place for preset white balance lighting. There are windows that give some light, and there’s incandescent light as well.

Or say you need to photograph something in a room that has fluorescent light overhead, incandescent light lamps, and huge windows giving natural light. Which setting do you choose?

Well, none of them is going to be ideal. When I was at Help Portrait, a photographer there, Marcus, showed me a great solution.

The Expo Disc is a disc that you place over your lens.



It refracts all the light in an area, so when you set your camera to manual and take a picture, it gives you a gray photo.

What you do is set your camera to custom white balance before taking the picture, and aim it at the light source (or, if possible, go to where the subject will be and aim at the place you will be standing to take the photo).

That gives you a more accurate reading of the light the subject will have on them/it. Then when you take the shot, your camera will set your white balance to the gray photo the expo disc helps you take.

It’s really simple. I wish I could tell each of you how to set your camera’s custom white balance, but there are WAY too many cameras out there for me to know how each one works.

Not to worry though, because all you have to do is Google how to set the custom white balance for your camera’s make and model. So many people have tutorials out there to show you how your exact SLR can do that.

Your camera will be perfectly set to take photos that show the true color and lighting in that space.

Then you put your expo disc away and photograph!


Here is an example of a before and after expo disc shot.


Don’t you think that looks so much better?

Another option is to use a gray card. This takes into account reflected light, and some people like it better. It’s also much less expensive.



Basically, you take a picture of the gray card in the setting you need to customize your white balance for, and that’s what you set your white balance to.


Because cameras are not as adept as our eyes in reading colors accurately in each light setting, they have to compensate by adding or subtracting gray to/from subjects. Something white will have some gray added in; something black might have a bit of gray taken out. It’s not a true reading.

So when you use a gray card to set your white balance, it takes in the light sources, and you’re set to get a more accurate color representation in your photos than you would with a white balance pre-setting alone.

Both of these are good options, and it’s a nice tool to have in your camera bag just in case you need it.

If you already do this, what do you prefer? Expo disc? Gray cards? Why?


6 thoughts on “Friday Favorite: Expo Disc and Gray Cards”

  1. I’m definitely a fan of the cards, especially the gray/white/black set so you can just use a tool like Curves in photoshop to post-process all the images in the event you don’t want to keep setting white balance in camera. This is more a testament to my laziness than my effectiveness as a photographer. :] I’ll be honest, 50-70% of the time, I don’t use anything to help with white balance. In fact the only time I seem to use them is with product photography. I probably should use them more but in the end I wind up post processing to the warmth and color I like anyway.

    -Your local lazy photog

  2. Also, I had to search a bit for this but if you want to save $100 bucks and have some DIY time, the results from a coffee filter appear to be pretty darn close to what an expodisc provides.

    Technically any white nearly opaque paper will diffuse the light fairly well but 3 n95 coffee filters seem to have the best effect according to this and this.

    The expodisc is probably hardier of course but I usually balk at paying over 30 dollars for any filters and a coffee filter is like 5 cents. The indian in me simply doesn’t want to. :p

    Now I’m wondering why I paid as much as I did for my cards. :}

  3. Those are really great ideas for customizing your white balance! However, I shoot in RAW and since it’s not a compressed file, I’m able to change the white balance after I’ve taken the photo while I’m editing. It’s pretty amazing but it also means that even for most basic pictures, I end up shooting raw = HUGE file. Do you shoot in raw? I would hiiiiiighly recommend it for your shoots!

    1. Just recently started doing this because you suggested it. I had been planning to for a long time, but I kept putting it off because I was nervous to change my ways. haha Thanks for the push!

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